Brexit legislation 'strikes a dagger to my soul', says ex-civil service chief

Lord Butler of Brockwell

A former top Whitehall civil servant has said landmark Brexit legislation "strikes a dagger" to his soul.

Independent crossbencher Lord Butler of Brockwell, who headed the civil service for a decade, also issued a stark warning over Britain's "illusory quest for independence" as it is "carried along on a tide of narrow nationalism".

However, he pledged not to oppose the second reading of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill or back moves to hamper its passage through the House of Lords.

He argued the legislation was needed to ensure there was not a "void" in UK law when leaving the bloc.

But Lord Butler said the public were entitled to a say on the final Brexit deal.

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While the Bill was not the platform to demand this, he said he would back any changes that meant it was an option when Parliament was given a meaningful vote.

Lord Butler told peers the first line of the Bill to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 "strikes a dagger to my soul".

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He said: "I have been conscious of the benefit which our country has derived from membership of what has now become the European Union.

"Having said that I do think I understand why the 52% voted as they did.

"The rush towards a federal union is a mistake and may lead to disaster.

"Nevertheless, my view is that there is one thing worse than being a member of the EU and that is not being a member of it."

He added: "The prospect that the United Kingdom, motivated by what in my view is an illusory quest for independence in a world which becomes more interdependent day by day, is one that is painful.

"It becomes the more so when the UK appears to be carried along on a tide of narrow nationalism which has brought so much trouble to Europe and the world.

"However, I shall not vote against second reading of the Bill nor shall I support any attempt to delay it."

Lord Butler went on: "I agree with those who say that the Bill is necessary so that there is not a void in UK law if and when we leave the EU.

"I have argued ever since the referendum that the British people are entitled to a further say when the terms of the UK's departure are known.

"But I agree... that this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle to require a further referendum.

"I shall, however, support any amendments which may be necessary to ensure that a further referendum will be among the options when Parliament is given a meaningful vote at the conclusion of the negotiations.

"I believe that there is a job for this House to do without straying beyond our proper constitutional role and I share the hope that we should do it firmly but constructively."

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